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Although poinsettias are intrinsically linked to Christmas, and millions are sold during the holiday season in the United States, this colorful shrub is native to regions of Mexico and Central America at higher elevations. It is named for the first U.S. Minister to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, who brought the beloved plant back to the United States in the 1820s.
The poinsettia’s association with Christmas long predates when the diplomat brought it back to the United States. In Mexico, the poinsettia is known as the “Christmas Eve flower.” With its vibrant green and red leaves, it’s hard not to associate this gorgeous plant with Christmastime; however, you can cultivate and make your poinsettia happy throughout the year.
Learn everything you need to know about caring for a poinsettia plant in any season with our comprehensive growth guide.
These bright and colorful poinsettia flowers can grow between 3-10 feet high and 3-7 feet wide. They display small yellow flowers surrounding their vibrant pink floral bracts and are hugely attractive to species like butterflies and bees. They are also easy to care for, requiring only sunlight and watering.$11.99 On Amazon
Fast Facts on Poinsettias
Mexico and Guatemala
Requires at least six hours of bright, direct sunlight
Loose, well-draining, slightly acidic soil
Frequency of watering
Infrequent watering; water when the soil is dry
Slightly toxic; keep away from cats and dogs
Ideal humidity level
60% to 75%
How to Care for Poinsettias
Every year, more than 70 million cultivars, or bred varieties of poinsettias, are sold in just a month and a half. In its native habitat, the poinsettia faces challenges: Its wild population is dwindling due to massive deforestation, so it’s fortunate that this lovely plant is cultivated so meticulously elsewhere.
No matter which variety of poinsettia you have in your home, it’s important to know how to care for this distinctive plant. Here’s how to set your poinsettias up for success this season.
Poinsettias are short-day plants, meaning that the short days of winter encourage them to produce flower buds in the center of the bracts (flowering leaves). This means that December is the perfect month for their tiny yellow flowers to open in the northern hemisphere. Therefore, they do not need any fertilizer during this time.
To keep poinsettias healthy so they can rebloom the next year and keep growing, they need fertilizer periodically. You can add houseplant fertilizer to your poinsettia’s soil in the spring when you see new growth on your plant, such as fresh green leaves and new stems or bracts. After this, you can add fertilizer solution to the soil about once a month.
Poinsettias have the potential to thrive as indoor plants as long as they have access to bright, indirect light. If you keep your poinsettia indoors as a houseplant, you should place it on or near a sunny window where it can receive bright light for several hours a day.
If you plant your poinsettias in the soil outdoors, be mindful that they like indirect sunlight between four to six hours each day, so a spot that receives partial shade throughout the day is ideal.
When you first purchase your poinsettia from a garden center or nursery, it is likely already potted using peat-based potting soil. Eventually, you will need to move your poinsettia to a larger pot, and then you’ll also need to get new soil to keep it well nourished.
The best soil to use, whether you grow your poinsettias indoors or outdoors, is a loose potting soil mixture that includes peat moss. It needs to be well-draining so that sitting water in the soil doesn’t cause root rot.
Growing poinsettias outdoors is best only if you live in a cool climate without significant temperature fluctuations. They prefer temperatures of about 65 degrees to 70 degrees Fahrenheit year-round. Freezing temperatures are lethal to poinsettias, so if you don’t live somewhere with a mild climate in all respects, keep your poinsettias inside to provide proper care for them.
If you like to keep your home a little bit chilly, your poinsettias will thank you. But keep them away from cold drafts in your home. The same goes for warm or hot bursts of air that may dry them out, like fireplaces or heating vents. They should be kept in constant temperatures with minimal fluctuations.
You can keep your poinsettia in its original container for the first few months you have it. By springtime, it’s time to move your poinsettia into a larger container. This gives the root system a chance to expand, and the dark green and bright red leaves a chance to flourish.
As mentioned in the soil section, you should use potting soil that retains moisture well and allows for good drainage, such as a soil-and-peat-moss blend.
If you transplant your poinsettia to an outdoor garden rather than a larger pot, make sure you have well-draining soil and that your plant can get at least four hours of sunlight per day. It’s best if this isn’t full sunlight, but poinsettias do well in indirect light.
Make sure that your poinsettia’s soil is moist. When you notice that the top layer of the potting soil is dry to the touch, it’s time to water your poinsettia thoroughly. You don’t want wet soil—you want to keep it just moist.
As with any houseplant, it’s important to avoid overwatering. If your poinsettia sits in excess water, you risk root rot and the end of the road for your poinsettia. It’s best to water your poinsettia in the sink and then allow the pot to drain completely before placing the plant back in its regular location.
Before you begin watering the plant with the intent to care for your poinsettia past the holiday season, remove the decorative foil that’s covering the pot to allow for proper drainage. The pot that your poinsettia calls home should also have good drainage holes.
How to Use Poinsettias as Cut Flowers
Because poinsettias produce a milky sap on their stems and leaves (which could potentially cause a mild rash), there’s a specific method you need to follow to use these gorgeous leaves as cut flowers in displays and bouquets.
The first step is to use small shears or scissors to cut the stem to the length you’d like. Then, place the stem in hot water for about 20 seconds. This helps seal in the sap so you can work with the poinsettia stem. You can then place the stem in cold water and leave it there as you like, or use florist foam for your display.
How to Make Poinsettias Rebloom
If you have a poinsettia you’re struggling to help rebloom after dormancy, use these tips to make things easier.
- Deprive of light: Once the spring comes, your poinsettia’s leaves will become dark green, as it is no longer in its blooming season. The key to making the leaves red again and making the tiny flowers rebloom is to deprive the plant of sunlight. Starting in the third week of September, expose your poinsettia to 16 hours of complete darkness without interruption. For the other eight hours, your poinsettia can receive bright light. The light deprivation interrupts the plant from making chlorophyll, the compound in leaves that makes them green. You will see the leaves lose their green again and return to whatever color their cultivar was when you got the plant.
- Fertilize: Your poinsettia should continue to bloom and flower until the end of January into the beginning of February. Around the first week of March, start fertilizing the poinsettia with a good, balanced fertilizer monthly.
- Prune: You may notice that regular watering and fertilization make your poinsettia shoot up like a teenager going through a growth spurt. To achieve the desired growth cycle by the fall, you should prune your poinsettia so that the shrub is only about 5 inches tall.
- Return to light: By Thanksgiving, you can stop the 16-hour light deprivation and return your poinsettia to a sunny place where it can get bright light for six to eight hours per day. You should also reduce watering and fertilizing until the warmer months.
Common Issues with Poinsettias
While poinsettias can be easy to grow with proper care, they still face some of the most common household plant issues.
Leaf drop happens when poinsettias are exposed to extreme temperature fluctuations, whether cold or hot. This is why it’s so important to keep them away from ducts, drafts, heaters, fireplaces, or direct intense sunlight.
Poinsettias will wilt if they are too hot and if you overwater or underwater them. You must balance the water in the soil and drain it properly to continue caring for your poinsettias, so they’re healthy and robust.
Unfortunately, whiteflies are common pests that plague poinsettias by feeding on their sap. This can cause wilting, leaf drop, and loss in pigmentation for your plant. If you pay attention, you can see these white insects fluttering around your plant, so keep an eye out for these sap eaters.
Other pests to be aware of are fungus gnats, which are like fruit flies. If you encounter any pests on your indoor plants, use a pesticide that is safe for indoor use or call a pest control company.
Caring for poinsettias is not an undertaking for the faint of heart or those with brown thumbs. There are many steps to making this plant survive and rebloom, but if you’re up for the challenge, it’s worth it to see those vibrant bracts return for the holidays.
Remember to water and fertilize your poinsettia regularly, keep it away from extreme temperature shifts, and expose it to suitable light levels for its growing season. Your poinsettia should be able to thrive through Christmas and beyond.
Poinsettia Care FAQ
Can you keep a poinsettia alive year-round?
You can keep a poinsettia alive year-round, but it may be challenging if you’re a first-time plant parent. Poinsettias are delicate, and if you want them to retain their holiday decor colors, it’s an annual process with monthly steps.
Why are the leaves of my poinsettia falling off?
There are several possibilities for why your poinsettia leaves fall off. You may be overwatering your poinsettia or not letting the water drain properly. Your poinsettia is a Goldilocks plant—temperatures need to be just right, and extreme fluctuations could cause the leaves to fall off. Poor plant health due to pest infestation is another possibility.
How do I make my poinsettia bushy?
Proper pruning is critical if you want a bushy, full poinsettia. Prune the plant with pruning shears in spring if it starts to get stretched-looking, and keep pruning it through the summer. This encourages compact leaf growth rather than letting the plant get taller and taller.